‘Don’t you have any fear, Kay. We’re the guards, we are. We hear that the house has gone all to sixes and sevens since we left it, but that’s going to be remedied now’
Young Kay Harker lives in an old house in the country, filled with portraits of his ancestors. His only companions are his unpleasant guardian Sir Theopompus and his governess Sylvia Daisy Pouncer (who, Kay suspects, has stolen all his toys). Life is lonely and dull, until one night Kay’s great-grandpapa Harker, a sea captain, steps out of his portrait to tell him about a stolen treasure that belongs to Kay’s family. The evil Abner Brown is searching for it too, but Kay is helped by the midnight folk: creatures like Nibbins the cat and Rollicum Bitem Lightfoot the fox, and even his lost toys, who will join him on his dangerous quest.
The Midnight Folk is a feast of imaginative story-telling, a glorious cornucopia of pirates and witches, lost treasure and talking animals. Although it was published in 1927, it evokes an older world: houses are lit by oil lamps, and travel is by horse, carriage – or broomstick. Masefield perfectly captures a child’s perspective, from the terrors of tigers under the bed to the horrors of declining a Latin adjective. Yet there is also plenty of humour that adults will appreciate, from Miss Piney Trigger, who swigs champagne in bed and prides herself on having backed a host of Derby winners, to Kay’s lessons: ‘Divinity was easy, as it was about Noah’s Ark. French was fairly easy, as it was about the cats of the daughter of the gardener.’ This mingling of past and present, reality and fantasy, has made this one of the most rewarding and influential children’s books ever written.